The Search is On (Again)!

Between 1976 and 1983 the original staff of the Jane Addams Papers Project, led by Mary Lynn Bryan, undertook a massive search for Addams documents, searching thousands of archival collections and locating documents in 574 of them. These documents, microfilmed in 1996, will serve as the base of the new Jane Addams Digital Edition. We estimate that they found almost 20,000 letters from the period between 1901 and 1935. They also found evidence that not everything had been preserved. Some documents were lost, but others were deliberately destroyed.

No historian likes to hear stories like this:

According to Ellen Starr Brinton, Curator of the Swarthmore Peace Collection, “A chance call on Jane Addams in Hull House, Chicago, just when she was burning personal papers on the fireplace was the beginning of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.”(1)

or to see what Addams wrote to her nephew and biographer, James Linn shortly before her death:

Jane Addams, ca. 1935.

I have been going over a box full of letters of mine to Mary Smith. They quite filled a drawer of her desk–all sorts of notes. I am destroying a good many and sending others–a lot in fact–on to you. Not that you will want to use them, I hope, but they will give you a certain ‘feel’ of the 1890s, etc. Among those am I destroying are the purely family ones–of her family or mine–but I am sending a few on to you that you may want to read first. Please ‘read–destroy.’ (March 8, 1935)(2)

We are grateful that Linn didn’t do it–what little correspondence remains between Mary Rozet Smith and Jane Addams survives because of Linn’s disobedience.

The Addams Papers editors searched archives and libraries, located private collections, found articles published in newspapers and locked away in attics and basements. As they did so, they identified other holes in the Addams archive, the most prominent being:

  • All but two of Hull-House’s complex was razed to build the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle in 1963.

    Some key Addams’ diaries are missing, including the ones that chronicled her visit to Toynbee Hall, where she and Ellen Gates Starr hit upon the idea to open Hull-House.

  • Manuscripts for many of her books have not been found.
  • Many of Hull-House’s records were destroyed accidentally when a basement they were stored in flooded during construction.
  • After Addams’ death, her family sold or donated various parts of her papers and the family papers to a number of archives, scattering the Addams archive.

As any researcher knows, you can never find everything. Even if you search all known collections for Addams materials, the day that you stop looking, a new collection will be deposited at an archive or an existing collection will finally be processed (described and organized by archivists) and reveal new Addams documents.

As we embark on building a digital edition of Jane Addams’ correspondence and writings, it is time to do another search.

A New World

The last Addams search was done 30 years ago and a world away when you think about it in terms of technological advances. As we begin our search, we have so many research tools that the editors in the 1970s and 1980s  did not.

All right, it wasn’t quite that bad!

We used to consult incomplete printed guides to locate archives and libraries that might have holdings. The NUCMC (National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections) was organized by state and city, and editors used to tackle a few pages at a time, writing letters (yes, actual letters!) to them seeking information about their holdings. Smaller libraries might not even be listed. Now we can search the web to find libraries and archives and use databases like ArchiveGrid that provide information and links to specific archival collections, in many cases letting us see the finding aids that describe them. These guides are often so detailed that we can simply e-mail the archives and ask them to look in specific folders and send copies.

We actually had one like this at the Margaret Sanger Papers in the 1990s.
We actually had one like this at the Margaret Sanger Papers in the 1990s.

To locate newspaper articles written by Addams, or about her activities, editors had access to very few indexed newspapers, and often had to scan old newspapers on microfilm, hoping to find coverage.  Looking for journals was a bit easier, as many were indexed, but obtaining copies from them could take months as we relied on inter-library loans and letters (again!) to libraries and archives. Now many journals and newspapers, especially those published before 1923 are available online, through large sites like Google Books, the Digital Public Library of America, the Hathi Trust, or the Internet Archive. Old newspapers are becoming more easy to access, through sites like the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America, though many sites require subscriptions. The Addams Papers has access to ProQuest’s historical newspapers,, and a number of other databases that we will be able to search, both for missing Addams documents, and for details on her life and travels.

Count of microfilmed correspondenceWhat happened in 1923?

Some things have not changed. It is still a complex process, but one that technology helps us to master.  Creating visualizations, like the graph below, have shown us a new potential gap in the collection–the sudden reduction of documents written by Jane Addams in 1923. A serious decline in her usual production might mean a box of documents was lost or destroyed, perhaps she wrote less because she was traveling the world, or because she became ill. Using databases to enter all potential sources of new Addams documents allows us to track our progress in contacting them and obtaining materials.  In many cases, we will still have to do the leg work of visiting the archives, checking through boxes and boxes of material, and making copies and scans.

We have started by listing the archival collections that do not appear in the microfilm. We will search these, by e-mail and in person, and then check the documents found against what was filmed on the microfilm (some could be duplicates). We plan to search digitized newspaper sites and e-journals looking for Addams articles that might have slipped through the original search, and will also look to European archives, which are also far more accessible using digital tools than they ever were before. With luck, we can add to the substantial work done to build the Addams microfilm to make available even more of Jane Addams’s documents.


(1) Mary McCree Bryan, The Jane Addams Papers: A Comprehensive Guide, (1996), p. 68.

(2) Mary McCree Bryan, The Jane Addams Papers: A Comprehensive Guide, (1996), p. 69.

Interest Meeting Held on September 16

Jane Addams Papers Poster-2015-16Sept-page-001Thanks to the students, faculty and staff who came to last night’s meeting about the work of the Jane Addams Papers. I was happy to provide some background on Jane Addams’ life and talk about the ongoing efforts to preserve, gather, and publish her papers, and about the goals of the Addams Papers here at Ramapo College.

Student participation will be key to the success of the Jane Addams Papers, and I was delighted with the numbers of students who came up to talk about joining the project. The Addams Papers is hiring student assistants right now, through our postings on Archway.

  • Editorial Assistant (Archway #9533) will anaylze and digitize documents, entering metadata about them in our online content management system. Students will read documents to assign them subjects, and note mentions of people, places, events and organizations. Students will transcribe documents according to project guidelines and help editors proofread transcriptions. Editorial assistants will be researching and writing blog posts about the project and Jane Addams, and researching and writing identifications for people and organizations. We have 2 open positions, for up to 15 hours per week.
  • Research Assistant (Archway #9543) will focus more on researching and writing identifications for the people, places, organizations and events mentioned in the documents, but will also work on transcribing the documents digitized by the editorial assistants. Research assistants will also help research and clear copyright and publication permissions for documents, and assist the editor in locating and obtaining new Addams documents from archives, newspapers, journals and other sources. We have 2 open positions, for up to 15 hours per week.
  • Publicity Assistant (Archway #9542) will design and implement a social media publicity and promotion campaign for the Jane Addams Papers. Working with the editors, the assistant will map out a strategy, schedule blog posts and social media updates, and help spread news about the project to related organizations, such as archives, museums, colleges, and activist groups. The assistant will also take part in transcribing documents, and will assist the editor with answering research queries, and attracting volunteers. This position is for up to 15 hours per week.
Learn to research using the U.S. Census!

I also encouraged students to consider volunteer and internship opportunities at the Project. One of the goals for the project is that is serve as a research lab for humanities students and others across the College. We’d like to help you gain practical skills doing historical research, investigating digital humanities tools, and opportunities to get your writings and other creative work published on the web.

  • We can use more help transcribing documents, conducting research and writing up the results. If you don’t have the time to commit to a job, you can come in as a volunteer on your own schedule.
  • We are looking for guest bloggers.  If you have written a paper or essay using the Jane Addams Papers or focusing on Addams or her associates, write a blog summarizing your findings and we’ll publish it on our website. Or, if you enjoy writing about history, come volunteer to research and write blogs about the project or about Addams’ life.
  • We would love to involve graphics design students in helping us design logos and promotional materials and improve our website design.
  • If you are a computer science student with an interest in digital humanities or working with humanists to play with primary source materials, we would be happy to help you get a project or application started. We want to feature these kinds of collaborations on our website.
  • We welcome education students who might help us develop document-based lesson plans or guides for programs like National History Day.
  • We will be looking for translators to help with foreign language documents.
  • Have an idea for an interactive map, a digital chronology, or a digital exhibit about Addams, settlement house, the World War I peace movement, woman’s suffrage, education in Chicago or any of the many other activities Addams undertook? We’ll help you research and present it, and make it a part of our website.
  • Looking for a research topic for your coursework this semester? Consider the Jane Addams Papers.

We are looking forward to working with you!

Ramapo College Welcomes the Jane Addams Papers!

nhprc-logo-mNEW DIGITAL HUMANITIES INITIATIVE ANNOUNCED! Dr. Stephen Rice, Dean of the Salameno School of Humanities and Global Studies, has announced that Ramapo College has received a major grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) – the funding agency of the National Archives – that will enable us to launch the Jane Addams Papers Project this fall.

Jane Addams was a pioneer in the settlement house movement, having co-founded Hull House in Chicago in 1889. She was also a leader in the women’s suffrage and peace movements of the early twentieth century. In 1931 she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end war.

The NHPRC has for a number of years supported the publication of her papers. With this grant the project will move from Duke University to Ramapo, and will take on a new direction as a digital humanities initiative. Starting in September Ramapo students will have opportunities to work on campus in all facets of a digital publication project, including the transcription and editing of documents, historical research, website design and maintenance, blogging, and software coding.

The project will be directed by Cathy Moran Hajo ’85, the former Associate Editor of New York University’s Margaret Sanger Papers Project. Dr. Hajo brings a wealth of expertise not only in documentary editing, but also in the techniques of digital humanities.